Potato shortage looms in Manitoba

Manitoba could be facing another potato shortage.

Growers need about two weeks of favourable weather for harvest, otherwise thousands of acres will remain in the ground this winter.

As of the middle of October, about 65-70 percent of the province’s potato crop had been harvested, said Dan Sawatzky, Keystone Potato Producers Association general manager.

Manitoba growers planted about 67,000 acres of spuds this spring, meaning 20,000 acres of potatoes have not been harvested.

A soaking wet September and 25-50 cm of snow over the Thanksgiving weekend has stalled the harvest of all crops in Manitoba, including potatoes.

Most of the unharvested potatoes are in the region around Portage la Prairie and Carberry, in south-central Manitoba.

Producers remain hopeful they can get the potatoes out of the ground, but the window of opportunity is getting tight, Sawatzky said.

“If the weather holds and we get a drying cycle, I think that’s what everyone is hoping for,” he said. “Growers have not given up. They are holding onto a thread of hope that there might be a chance, to go back in.”

The potatoes are needed because Simplot Foods has spent $450 million to double the size of its processing plant in Portage la Prairie. The plant is scheduled to open this winter, but it can’t operate at full capacity if there’s a shortfall of potatoes in the province.

The situation could be a repeat of 2018, when Manitoba potato growers were unable to dig up the entire crop. Below normal temperatures froze the soil the second week of October — making it impossible to harvest 5,000 acres of potatoes.

Simplot and McCain Foods, the other processor in Manitoba, imported spuds from Alberta and Idaho to make up for the shortfall.

Importing potatoes may not be an option this year.

Potato yields are below average in Idaho and a September snowstorm threw a wrench into the Alberta harvest.

“It doesn’t look like there will be an opportunity to bring potatoes (to Manitoba) from elsewhere,” Sawatzky said. “At least not a large volume.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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